Parceling Out Tax Breaks for Real Estate Investments

Posted on Monday, July 09, 2018

If you own raw land as an investor, you can cash in on a tax break by subdividing the tract and selling off smaller parcels. As long as you stay within the tax law boundaries, all of your profit is treated as capital gain, taxed at a maximum tax rate of 20%. However, if the IRS deems you to be a "dealer" for tax purposes, your real estate profits are taxed at higher ordinary income rates of up to 37% for 2018 (39.6% for 2017).

Dealer status can occur if you subdivide real estate and sell or develop lots on a regular basis.

To qualify for capital gain treatment, you must meet the following requirements:

You have owned the land at least five years (or acquired it by inheritance or another method).
There have been no major improvements on the land being subdivided.
You did not previously hold the land for sale to customers in the ordinary course of business.
No other property is being held primarily for sale to customers in the year of the sale.

This tax break is not limited to individual investors. Under a tax law change, S corporations can also qualify for preferential capital gain.

As long as you meet these requirements, the entire gain is treated as capital gain if you sell less than six lots from the tract. (If you sell two or more adjoining lots to the same buyer in a single sale, it only counts as the sale of one lot). However, if you sell six or more lots from the same tract, up to 5% of the gain from the sale is taxed as ordinary income (reduced by your selling expenses).

Timing is everything: When you sell five lots in a tract in the current year and another lot the next year, the five-percent rule only applies to the lot sold in the following year (and any subsequent sales of lots from the same tract). If possible, you might use this technique to reduce the tax liability from the sales of a huge tract of land.

Of course, subdividing land — rather than selling it intact — involves more than just taxes. If you go this route, you probably need to deal with local zoning boards, surveyors, land engineers and more. Consult with your real estate attorney before getting started.

Posted in Tax Topics For Individuals

Disclaimer: The information contained in Dulin, Ward & DeWald’s blog is provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as financial or legal advice on any subject matter. Before taking any action based on this information, we strongly encourage you to consult competent legal, accounting or other professional advice about your specific situation. Questions on blog posts may be submitted to your DWD representative.

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